By Carmen Glover
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. joined members of his brainchild committee, Bronx Fathers Taking Action (BFTA), keynote speaker Shawn Dove and supporters in braving the non-stop rain on Saturday, March 29, for the second annual Bronx Fathers Taking Action conference.
The event was held at 2500 Halsey Street in the Bronx headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Fathers from diverse backgrounds filled the room, some accompanied by their sons and daughters. The air was electric with anticipation and conversations buzzed as the event geared up to start. The theme of the event was “Sons of Today, Fathers of Tomorrow.”
Andre Peterson, the event’s chairman, started the event and then introduced the Reverend Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, who delivered the opening prayer. Ronald Hartridge and Felix Leo Campos, co-chars of the BFTA, provided an overview of the committee by sharing its mission statement, eliciting applause and murmurs of agreement when they spoke.
“The Bronx Borough President formed this group two years ago and made this men the co-chairs,” said Peterson as he introduced the men.
“This is a movement, it’s not just something to do. I grew up in the Bronx and raised my family in Co-op City,” said Hartridge. “This committee of Bronx fathers will focus proactively on engaging, empowering, educating and encouraging fathers. Our objective is to enlighten and advocate for fathers in our borough and facilitate a path towards productive parenthood. Our goal is to provide resources and new relationships to reinforce fathers as positive role models.” Campos agreed, echoing details about the origin of the committee.
The men indicated that they have identified several areas where their efforts will be targeted: mentoring, fathers’ rights advocacy, financial literacy and education. Each conference will launch the focus on one key area. The focus identified at Saturday’s conference was mentoring.
“I was born here in the Bronx and was a teenager in the late ’80s,” the borough president said when he addressed the gathering. “I am a father myself and you all know my father, Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr. I grew up on Watson Avenue, saw many bad things. My father wasn’t too comfortable talking to my brother and I about certain things so we both became teenaged parents.”
Diaz explained how he transferred from one high school to another because “I was in love with a young lady so I transferred, chasing after her. Well, Hilda and I are still in love. At the age of 21 I was a father of two.” Several men in the room nodded in recognition as Diaz talked about his past, especially when he stated:
“My family was one of the few where both mother and father were in the household.”
Diaz explained that with the borough celebrating 100 years and seeing over “$600 billions in investment,” it is important that “we prepare young men so that they are not forced out due to gentrification,” which he described as “other people will be coming in and we will be forced out.” Issuing a challenge to the men gathered, Diaz said:” When you speak of violence and crime the one denominator is usually young men who didn’t have support so shame on us, shame on me if we don’t start to lay down that foundation so the Bronx develops these young men.”
Keynote speaker Shawn Dove, who has worked in youth development for decades, thanked the borough president for his “honesty and transparency,” as he began his speech, saying as he looked at the men: “The iconic leadership that we are waiting for are right here in this room.” Dove then spoke about his upbringing and the role of women in his life:
“I want to acknowledge our women. I am a product of a single parent home with a Jamaican mother. I grew up in the Bronx and we are standing here fighting for our sons, our brothers, our wives and our fathers. Some people build monuments but the Bronx is building a movement,” he said as the men applauded.
He spoke about the importance of having mentors, acknowledging Wyatt as one of his. Dove disclosed how the Wyatt influenced him with words, and he shared one of the lessons that he learned from him years agi. Reflecting on that impact he said: “The right word from the right person at the right time can change your life.”
Dove explained that it is important for men to realize that it is acceptable to cry and he recalled being brought to tears in the past as he considered the plight of young men. “I cried and wondered who is crying for our sons,” he said, explaining that “We have to instill into our young men that they can reach out to us and say: ‘I need help’ because every young man needs help.”
He described the BFTA as being instrumental in providing that help. “The BFTA is a fight. We have to sound the alarm in the Bronx. If the Bronx is going to lead we have to raise the awareness, train fathers because 23 million children wake up each morning without their biological fathers.”
After delivering his speech, Dove was awarded a citation by the borough president. Also, all the members of BFTA who were in attendance were awarded citations as well.
“To the Bronx Fathers Taking Action, none of them is getting paid a dime. They all have their children and grandchildren at home. With that attitude we will be the model, the paradigm by which other boroughs are judged,” Diaz said in presenting the citations to the BFTA members.
After the citations were presented, the attendees broke for a lunch break which featured singing by a female duo and a spoken word performance, by Glen Jenkins that was gripping from beginning to the end.
Jenkins recited his original poem, “The Truth,” which called for action and activism. His delivery was riveting and his words were strong and powerful. His performance was warmly received and from his manner and tone it was evident that he was driven by a desire to share his message as widely and often as he can.
After the lunch break, the event resumed with a panel discussion during which panelists shared their experiences as mentors to children and the impact such interactions have in the lives of the mentees. Audience members asked various questions and respectful dialogue ensued.
The conference also featured display tables where a modest group showcased their organizations. Among the entities who had representatives distributing literature and keepsakes were: Bright Futures Tutoring Services and The Akira Center.
The members of the BFTA who attended the event were: Hartridge, Campos, Vincent Adams, who was the master of ceremonies; Kenneth Alexander from the Real Dads Network, Jamal Bowman, John Fielder, Fornes, Dr. Patrick Gannon, Jose Gonzalez, Theodore James, Peterson, Jose Manuel Pichardo and Robert Powell from the Bronx BP’s Panel for Educational Policy. Charles H. Oruam and the Rev. Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. did not attend.
Dove left the gathering with three steps to changing the circumstances for young men: “Teach them how to transform pain into power, build strategic partnerships and develop the gold in our young people,’ he said. Diaz endorsed the sentiment and added: “When we approach young men we have to redefine how a man is and should be. We’ve been stuck in this mental box about how we should comport ourselves.”
Fornes emphasized “the importance of pairing fathers with children who need mentors,” while Alston talked about Bronx Visions, a group formed by men from ACS who go to specific schools during the men’s lunch break, to mentor children. “We talk to them about their behavior and achievement,” he explained. But the tone of warning was issued by Wyatt.
“We are in deep trouble as a community,” he said. “There are so many children in need of direction and guidance. Mentoring takes time.”
From all indications, the men who comprise the BFTA are up to the challenge and determined to fill the need as well as expand their reach, one child at a time.
For more information about the Bronx Fathers Taking Action (BFTA), contact Monica Major, director of education and youth services at Tel: 718-590-3515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.–OnPointPress.net.
Please follow us on Twitter @OnPointPress_.